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Kirov Ballet - 'Giselle'

by Catherine Pawlick

April 26, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

The forgotten daughter of the Mariinsky, Daria Pavlenko, returned to the stage on Wednesday night after a regrettable five-year absence in the role to share with us her sublime gifts in “Giselle.”

Of the same graduating class as Veronica Part, who is still currently a soloist at ABT, and (only for the last few years at the Vaganova School) Svetlana Zakharova, who is still enjoying success at the Bolshoi, Pavlenko is often overlooked in favor of larger “name” dancers. As such, her staying power amidst these departures means something. Pavlenko is in many ways a symbol of the Kirov’s future: she is the youngest principal female dancer on the roster, left mostly to fend for herself amidst the publicity of Vishneva, the perfection of Lopatkina, and a list of younger dancers with Guillem-mode high extensions aching to rise higher within the ranks themselves.

That is to say, Pavlenko’s aura is of another sort, a sort that audiences have not been given full chance to absorb yet. Pavlenko, now recovered from a brief hiatus last fall for an injured knee, is nonetheless repeatedly withheld from casting even when not injured.

Last May, she danced the final performance of “Manon” (before the theater’s contract with Lady MacMillan expired) with Nikolai Tsiskaridze. She danced Nikiya in “Bayadere” last September. We did not see her again until she appeared onstage as Lilac Fairy to Alina Cojocaru’s Aurora in late March, followed by two performances of “Diamonds” earlier this month. For a principal dancer, three performances in a four-month (injury-free) period are disappointingly low.

But she has returned, and the results are no less than wonderful.

Neither particularly old-school Petipa in style (her dancing is not analytical; she does not rehearse details as Lopatkina does), nor fiery and dramatic like Vishneva (one can see her easily in the temperament of a white swan), Pavlenko’s presence on stage is in many ways the happy medium missing among the ranks in today’s Kirov. She is human onstage, full of feeling and tangibility. Not a diva, not an unreachable deity or image of perfection, but a character. She is the ballerina in “Diamonds”, creating a story onstage with her partner. She is the beauty at the ball, ecstatic at her chance to sweep across the stage in “La Valse”. And, in “Giselle”, she is the young peasant girl, enraptured by the unexpected attentions of a young peasant (so we think) boy.

Pavlenko is fallible, but this is in fact a great strength of hers. She brings the dance closer to each audience member through feeling and emotion, through the same fallibility that other ballerinas eschew in favor of the unattainable. Her drama is clear: she dances the choreography as she acts the role, without changing the essence of either. Thus with Pavlenko, one would not expect to see a feisty, moody Giselle or a cool, withdrawn, careful one. She is just a girl who has fallen in love with a boy. And her simplicity carries the libretto forward without accoutrement or distraction. Some would say this is boring. In fact, it is genius that such a direct, unadulterated interpretation can be found among the gymnastics and hysterics that increasingly represent the ballet world.

From her first entrance in Act One, Pavlenko danced the role of an innocent, pure, sensitive Giselle. Expressive in her delivery, her facial expressions alone were enough to clarify the mime sequences without overacting. Ilya Kuznetsov as Albrecht was the handsome, happy suitor, his eye consistently on the prize, intent on winning Giselle’s affections. After their first meeting, Pavlenko drew a hand to her heart with a brief sigh and glance outward, overcome with joy at his interest in her. As she counted the daisy petals, her head motions were complete explanations of her mime (other Giselles may not nod or shake their heads fully, which can fog the audience’s understanding of a significant exchange between the characters: the first sign of Albrecht’s insincerity).

During the peasant celebrations in Act One, several dancing moments drew attention for their technical expertise. Here Pavlenko floated in each arabesque as if it were an everyday motion, but also ethereally, as if a harbinger of what was to come. Her variation included a ronds en l’air (from devant through a la seconde to derrière) instead of the passé devéloppé to arabesque. She finished the assemble piqué turns smoothly, and all of the hops en pointe without difficulty. And in the dances en masse, when Giselle performs chaînés turns to passé, she stopped on a dime before being lifted, perfectly placed.

Pavlenko’s first surprise embrace of her onstage Mother, danced by Natalia Sveshnikova, was poignant, filled with love and joy. One senses that Pavlenko does not act, for she is too sincere a dancer to be false – she simply becomes the character and is believable in each gesture and step. Given her personal history (she lost both parents when she was very young) this role takes on deeper meaning for her especially.

In dealing with Hans, danced admirably by Dmitri Pikhachev, Pavlenko’s Giselle assumed responsibility for their communications, waving Albrecht aside. Then, prior to the revelation of her beau’s betrayal, she sought refuge in her mother’s arms.

Pavlenko’s mad scene was heartrending. Her eyes became wide with fear and disbelief as she recalled her first encounter with Albrecht. When she mimed his gesture of sworn love, shock filled her entire being. She then frantically grabbed the daisies from thin air, suddenly became self-conscious, and ran unknowingly into the sword. From there, the descent was slow, but clear as she viewed beings from the other life in front of her. Her dash to her mother was again genuine, but she didn’t even reach Albrecht’s arms, she fell through them, limply, onto the floor before he had even caught her.

Elena Vostrotina opened the Second Act as Myrtha. While mostly accurate, musically her rendition of the role was not as strong as Kondaurova’s last week. Tatiana Tkachenko and Yana Serebriakova were Moyna and Zulma, and they danced their variations with the pristine coolness requisite of these roles.

In this Act, Pavlenko’s sylph-like specter was photo worthy. Her mad spinning was swift but never frantic, her penché in the main adagio slow and faultless. During the pas de deux, her arabesques lusciously filled the stage with help from Kuznetsov’s velvet-touch partnering. Her pleas to Myrtha to save Albrecht – minor pauses in the dance that can go unnoticed if they become too “pose”-like – indicated Giselle as more than simply figment of the imagination. Indeed, Pavlenko’s Giselle flits between two worlds: now an unattainable, airy apparition, now the warm spirit of a young girl, alive in every way.

In this performance, Daria Pavlenko proved that even a five year pause cannot dim her inner light, which dances on despite various obstacles. Humanistic, sensitive, warm, believable, and real – these are only a few adjectives that capture her dancing. May we have many more opportunities to see her onstage in the near future.

Mikhail Agrest conducted.

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